Sanders Defuses Fight Over Minimum Wage Hike: Stimulus Update

Senator Bernie Sanders made a successful maneuver on his minimum wage proposal. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders will meet with President Joe Biden at the White House on Friday. The Senate backed by 99-1 a non-binding call to oppose stimulus checks going to “upper-income taxpayers” and on a voice vote adopted an amendment opposing raising the minimum wage during a pandemic. They were two in a series of messaging votes the chamber is taking in a complex process of preparing Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan for passage through Congress.

The chamber was tied up for hours voting on a series of proposed amendments to a budget resolution for 2021, a step required for Biden’s package to proceed with Democrat-only support.

Between the two parties, more than 550 amendments were filed, though most of them will be symbolic votes unrelated to pandemic relief, and actual votes are likely to be far fewer. The so-called vote-a-rama must be finished before the Senate can then pass a budget resolution for the 2021 fiscal year -- something lawmakers anticipate Friday.

That passage in turn clears the way for the Senate to move on Biden’s stimulus with a simple majority rather than the 60-vote threshold required for most legislation, once committee work on the elements of the plan are complete. The House passed its version of the budget Wednesday evening, but will need a follow-up vote after some amendments were approved in the Senate Thursday.

Sanders Defuses Fight Over Raising Minimum Wage

Sanders, the Senate Budget chairman, successfully defused a fight late Thursday over Biden’s proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

At issue was a non-binding budget amendment from Senator Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, that opposed raising the wage “during a global pandemic.”

While Sanders said he still intends to increase the wage to $15 an hour in the virus relief package, he said his plan always called for a five year phase-in. He said the $15 wage would be in place five years from now, not during the pandemic itself, so he would support Ernst’s amendment.

Ernst withdrew her request for a roll call and the amendment was adopted by a voice vote. That avoided displaying what could have been an awkward split among Democrats on a recorded vote, given that West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has suggested an $11 minimum wage made more sense for his state. -- Steven T. Dennis

Top House Democrats to Meet With Biden (8:24 p.m.)

Democratic House leaders will meet with Biden on Friday as they move forward with the budget reconciliation process that could pass his stimulus proposal through both chambers on a partisan vote.

Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and committee chairs will attend the 9:45 a.m. Oval Office meeting, which was announced by the White House.

The Democratic-led House is beginning to move forward with some of Biden’s policy priorities as the Senate is about to be preoccupied with the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

The House voted Thursday to strip Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene of her two committee assignments over her embrace of conspiracy theories and threats to elected Democrats. -- Billy House

Senate Opposes Stimulus Checks for ‘High Income’ Earners (6:13 p.m.)

The Senate voted 99-1 in favor of a non-binding measure proposed by a bipartisan group of 16 senators seeking to limit “upper-income taxpayers” from receiving direct payments in the next stimulus package.

The amendment to the fiscal 2021 budget resolution, led by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, doesn’t define the income level at which households should be made ineligible for the checks, but serves as a test vote for senators to gauge support on tightening the requirements.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- it depends who you want to talk to,” Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, told reporters. “The point of the amendment is, it’s negotiable.”

The size and scope of the payments are likely to be a continuing source of debate as Democrats and Republicans spar over the amount of economic assistance that is needed and how best to distribute it. Manchin, and several Senate Republicans, have said that previous stimulus payments went to households earning too much and that future payments should be more targeted.

The lopsided vote has little bearing on the debate over earning thresholds for stimulus checks since “upper income” was undefined. Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden and Budget Chair Bernie Sanders voted for the amendment, though both said Thursday they oppose tightening the eligibility compared to the previous formula. Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul voted against it.

The previous two rounds of stimulus checks have gone to individuals making $75,000 or couples making $150,000, with the payments phasing out above those levels. Democrats are considering lowering those thresholds to $50,000 for singles or $100,000 for married households to qualify for a $1,400 payment. Republicans have proposed to send $1,000 checks to people making up to $40,000 with a phase out of up to $50,000. -- Laura Davison, Erik Wasson

Senate Votes on Series of Proposed Amendments to 2021 Budget

Among the dozens of amendments the Senate is expected to vote on Thursday into Friday, many are designed to send political messages, with little or no real impact on final legislation.

The Senate did approve a measure that denounces tax increases on small businesses during the pandemic. The context: Biden has proposed to increase taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, but has said he will wait until the economy is stronger. -- Laura Davison

Senate Finance Chief Against Tightening Checks Eligibility (3:03 p.m.)

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden said he was against tightening the eligibility guidelines for Biden’s proposed $1,400 relief checks. He spoke a day after the president himself said he was open to tweaking the income thresholds, which some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have said are too generous.

“I’m opposed to it. And the reason why is the people who got the first two checks. A lot of them are really hurting and have bills, and they tell me they’re trying to pay their car insurance, they’re expecting a their check,” Wyden said.

Individuals earning up to $75,000 or couples making as much as $150,000 were eligible for the full stimulus payments in the previous two rounds of coronavirus relief enacted last year. Above those levels, the payments phased out gradually. Top Democrats are weighing lowering the thresholds to $50,000 or $100,000 for couples. -- Erik Wasson

White House Highlights Need for Minimum Wage Hike (2:13 p.m.)

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday that President Joe Biden “feels strongly” about raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour amid rising uncertainty over whether the provision will pass in Congress as part of a Covid-19 relief bill.

Key Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said this week that he opposes a $15 hourly wage, and all 50 Democrats would be needed to pass it in the Senate under a special budget procedure. It is also unclear whether under Senate rules the minimum wage can stay in a reconciliation bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that if the provision does gets cut, Democrats will keep trying to build support for it later in the year.

“It doesn’t mean it won’t happen just because it won’t happen there,” Pelosi said. -- Erik Wasson

Sanders Taps Rules Expert to Help Push Bill (11:56 a.m.)

Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders is bringing in an experienced hand who can help him navigate the tricky task of crafting a Democrat-only stimulus bill that can withstand threats of a filibuster by Republicans.

Bill Dauster, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, tweeted late Wednesday that he will be taking the role of chief counsel for Senate Budget Committee Democrats.

Dauster comes back to the Senate just as Sanders’s staff prepares a pandemic relief bill of as much as $1.9 trillion in the face of Republican opposition. The bill will have to be carefully tailored because GOP members will likely challenge provisions that they’ll argue don’t qualify for filibuster protections under so-called reconciliation rules -- such as Biden’s proposed minimum-wage hike.

In a January op-ed in Roll Call, Dauster argued that raising the minimum wage qualifies under reconciliation and that Democrats can overrule a potential parliamentary decision to exclude it.

Dauster served as Reid’s deputy chief of staff for policy and also once was head or deputy staff director for three Senate panels: Budget, Finance, and Labor and Human Resources. He was also deputy director of the White House National Economic Council in Bill Clinton’s administration, according to his bio on the website of the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been teaching a course on Washington. -- Laura Litvan

Romney Pitches Expanded Child Tax Credit, Echoing Biden (11:06 a.m.)

Senator Mitt Romney is offering a child tax credit expansion plan similar to a proposal President Joe Biden is pushing to include in the next stimulus bill, offering a glimpse of areas on which Republicans and Democrats could find compromise in a bipartisan package.

The Utah Republican’s plan proposes to increase the child tax credit to $4,200 a year for children five and under and $3,000 for children ages six to 17, up from $2,000. The plan is even more generous than Biden’s, which would give $3,600 a year to younger children and $3,000 for school-aged kids.

Romney and Biden are both proposing to send the benefit out monthly, equating to $350 a month for younger children under the Romney plan or $300 under the Biden plan. Both proposals would send $250 a month for older children. Currently, the child tax credit is added on to a family’s tax refund once a year.

Romney’s full proposal is likely a non-starter in bipartisan talks, because he suggests paying for the $229.5 billion in tax credits by with moves that will be unpalatable to Democrats.

He is proposing to completely eliminate the state and local tax deduction and the child-care tax credit, both benefits that Democrats want to expand. He would also reduce spending on the earned income tax credit, reduce nutrition-assistance benefits and make cuts to other social programs.

Romney is one of the 10 Republican senators who have offered a $618 billion stimulus counteroffer to Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan. The GOP plan released earlier this week didn’t include the child tax credit. -- Laura Davison

Schumer Sees ‘Vigorous’ Series of Vote-a-Rama Proposals (10:23 a.m.)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he anticipated a “vigorous” series of proposed amendments to the budget resolution the chamber is set to consider on Thursday.

The amendment process will be “bipartisan, it will be open and it will be vigorous,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday morning.

The consideration of amendments on the floor of the Senate is known as a vote-a-rama, where hundreds of proposals can be offered to the budget for simple majority votes. The process is expected to go past midnight, and feature issues unrelated to Covid-19 assistance.

“We’re going to put senators on the record” on issues including the Keystone XL oil pipeline, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday. Biden canceled the pipeline last month over environmental concerns. -- Laura Litvan

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